Under a Prairie Sky by Anne Laurel Carter
Illustrated by Alan and Lea Daniel. Orca Books, 2002. 32p. Illus. Gr. K-4. 1-55143-226-9. Hdbk. $19.95
A little boy wanders off as a prairie storm approaches. A bigger boy, imagining himself to be a Mountie, goes out in search of his wayward brother. The sparse and sometimes poetic text of this lavishly illustrated picture book lends a sense of urgency to the tale as the older brother searches in all the places he knows his little brother might hide: among the stooks of wheat, between the giant elevators by the train tracks, down in the coulee where the Saskatoon berries grow, and finally, in the slough where there are frogs to be caught.
Although this story is brief it contains much information for those not familiar with the prairies. The illustrations are full of gold, red, pink and yellow and capture the prairie landscape and the expressions of the characters perfectly. It would be an ideal book for reading to primaries studying regions of Canada. It would also lend itself to language arts strategies such as story-telling from the illustrations alone, and anticipating a conclusion. It would be a very worthwhile purchase for an elementary school library.
With Nothing But Our Courage (Dear Canada Series) by Kathleen Bradford
Scholastic Canada, 2002. 221p. Illus. Gr. 3-7. 0-43998-979-5. Hdbk. $12.99
This excellent novel portrays life for families loyal to the King of England in the days of the American rebellion against the British.
Written as a series of journal entries by 13 year old Mary MacDonald, this historical fiction novel begins with an exciting yet shocking exile. Mary's "loyalist" family, consisting of her grandmother, parents, and two younger siblings, is permitted to escape from Albany, New York in 1783. Angus, the third and eldest sibling, is missing as he battles for England.
Once on their way to their new "home," the family faces significant challenges that test their mettle. En route, the smallest member of the family dies of illness. They are forced to leave behind their treasured animals. Mary's grandmother must leave her spinning loom. They are not able to keep their carriage. Mary's mother refuses to accept that they will not be returning to Albany. All they have left is what they can carry.
It is clear that each member of the family has a role to play in the day to day life as they travel. Mary explains how grandma used herbs to help heal the family as they fell ill. She also chronicles her mother's emotional state as the family continues towards their destination. The journal entries describe highlights of their travel, such as the return of her older brother Angus, who was fighting in the war against the American Patriots. Moments of adventure, such as crossing the rivers and lakes are detailed in other parts of the journal. The MacDonald family meets others like themselves along the way.
Kathleen Bradford portrays this time in history very well. The detail used to describe the setting is outstanding and is seamlessly interwoven into the story. Mary's journal entries are emotional, and her passion for her family is evident throughout. The journal style of this novel is part of what makes it successful. We get to know the characters through a likeable, positive young girl. As well, Bradford keeps the pace of the novel steady. The realistic challenges faced by this family uprooted by war would be easily transferable to many facing the same strife today. The novel moves from despair, to hope, to survival and success. The novel explores what it is like to have a comfortable life suddenly changed and to have to start over with nothing but courage and determination - an excellent historical fiction novel.
The Dollmage by Martine Levitt
Red Deer Press, 2001. 159p. Gr. 7-9. 0-88995-233-7. Pbk. $9.95
This compelling fantasy revolves around the figure of the Dollmage, the wise woman of Seekvalley who uses her magic and her secret craft of making story dolls to keep her people safe from outside forces. Now that her powers are weakening with age, she has to decide on a successor who will learn her secrets and magic. She must choose one of two girls, Annakey and Renoa, both born on the same day, both with their own special powers.
The novel opens with a tense scene in which the Dollmage is defending Annakey who is in danger of being stoned by angry villagers. In Annakey's defense, the Dollmage relates the story of the birth of the two girls, their rivalry for the honour of becoming the next Dollmage, and the resulting catastrophes that face the village. Her story is exciting and evocative. The contrasting characters of the two possible successors are carefully drawn and the events of their early lives and adolescence intriguing.
What makes the novel particularly interesting is the narrative voice of the first person narrator. Hearing the story filtered through the Dollmage's first person perspective, readers can never be sure how much of a reliable narrator she really is. The Dollmage confesses her own failures and mistaken judgments throughout and highlights the strengths and weaknesses of Annakey and Renoa. We come to know the girls through the Dollmage's eyes and this perspective both constraints and enhances the impact of the story.
In this novel, Leavitt weaves an elaborate fantasy of secrets, relationships and power struggles. She creates a world of magic that is easy to believe in with characters that we come to care about. Although there is a tendency to dichotomize the two girls as "all good" and "all self-serving", this is a minor flaw in an overall successful novel that should have a wide appeal.
Attack on Pearl Harbor by Shelley Tanaka
Illustrated by David Craig. Madison Press Books, 2001. 64p. Illus. Gr. 3-8. 0-439-98867-5. Hdbk. $22.99
Early on the morning of December 7, 1941, Japan launched a massive surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii. Two brief and terrible hours later, much of the American fleet lay sunk or burning, 2,388 Americans were dead, and the United States and Japan were at war.
Dozens of children witnessed this important moment in history. Hundreds of young servicemen - both American and Japanese - came of age on this unforgettable day. Their moving eyewitness accounts are woven together in a powerful retelling of the events at Pearl Harbour. Shelley Tanaka, an award-winning author, re-tells every frightening and heroic moment through the memories of young people who were actually there Eleven-year-old Peter Nottage's peaceful schoolboy life is changed forever as he watches the bombs rain down on Kaneohe Bay. Young Kazuo Sakamaki, barely out of the Japanese naval academy, goes on a suicide mission when he takes part in the underwater attack. Nineteen-year-old sailor George DeLong is trapped for thirty-two hours inside the hull of the capsized USS Oklahoma Richly illustrated with original paintings and many previously unpublished period photographs, Attack on Pearl Harbour also includes maps, diagrams, and features that explain everything from what led to the attack to its lasting impact on our world today.
Shelley Tanaka is an award-winning children's author and an editor. She has written seven books in the popular I Was There Series, including In the Time of Knights, Secrets of the Mummies, Graveyards of the Dinosaurs, Discovering the Iceman, and On Board the Titanic.
David Craig, whose colorful and dramatic paintings are featured here, is highly skilled at portraying historical events and people. His many credits include a series of paintings commemorating the 50th anniversary of World War II and illustrations for books, plates, and coins.
Attack on Pearl Harbour is a very well-written and powerfully illustrated book. The facts of history are depicted through the eyes of people who were present during the attack. Children would gain much knowledge and understanding of the event by reading this book.
The Dream Book: The Young Person's Guide to Understanding Dreams by Patricia Garfield
Tundra Books, 2002. 122p. Gr. 8-12. 0-88776-594-7. Pbk. $14.95
This is a resource written by an authority on dreams for the young adult. (Patricia Garfield is a worldwide leading authority on dreams, with numerous publications to her name.) With the hormonal changes that bodies experience at the onset of puberty, the quantity and quality of dreams change as well. Dreams become more frequent and, in the author's terms, "wackier". After providing an introductory section in which she discusses the medical and psychological functions of sleep and dreaming, the author offers 14 chapters of types of dreams, two examples of which are "Kisses are Delicious", and "I'm Stuck in Muck". Each chapter includes samples of young adult's journaled accounts of dreams, and the author's interpretations, as well, as bold type captioned key points.
The author's purpose in writing this book is evident - she believes that dreams express an individual's inner thought processes, and that understanding one's dreams lead to a greater understanding of one's self - which is of prime importance during adolescence. Garfield refers to research findings that substantiate her claims, although she provides no references at the back of the book. The book's message is one of reassurance - the information in dreams offers understanding and knowledge of self. Her writing style is informal and accessible, and her concern for her young readers' mental health remains steady throughout. Each page offers a pleasing balance of clear text and white space. Chapter headings and subtitles throughout the resource are the only access points to information location, as there is no index. This will be a book many young people would read easily and with interest if promoted in general interest, and/or health sessions.
The French Immersion Debate, French for All or All for French by Jeanne-Marie Mannavarayan
Detselig Enterprises Ltd, 2002. 146p. 1-55059-226-2. Pbk. $26.95
Jeanne-Marie Mannavarayan, an experienced FSL and immersion teacher questions and analyzes the suitability of second language programs for all children. In the first part of the book she explores the traditional literature on Immersion, presenting the success of the programs, the advantages of bilingual education but focusing mainly on difficult classroom experiences and attrition. In the second part she examines influential factors such as IQ, motivation and anxiety on second language learning.
The question of suitability of Immersion for every child is not new, but the author approaches it in a more global perspective analyzing the main reasons for students to switch out of Immersion and showing that research in the field of second language learning is not sufficient to explain the learning difficulties of some students. However, it is lacking the perspective of parents and students who regret to have left the program. It also puts a great deal of emphasis on her own observations of Immersion students without giving an exhaustive portrait of each student. Finally, it would have been valuable to publish this study in French since it would benefit Education students as well as Immersion teachers.
National Film Board of Canada, 2001. VHS. 50min. Gr. 10-12. C9101 025. $39.95
Donna's Story is a powerful look at the life of Donna Gamble, a young Cree woman, battling her past as a prostitute, drug addict, and victim. The film's language is graphic and explicit at times, meaning its use in schools is best used in specific situations and for classes which have been prepared beforehand to deal with the many issues this film raises.
Donna is a compelling and articulate subject, one who has managed to escape her life on the streets and who uses her experiences to counsel others in various outreach programs. At the start of the film we see the new Donna, who appears to have her life in order and who is on a crusade to help others. However, little by little, we see that her life is more complicated and that many of the old issues resurface and add start to add complications and wrinkles to the story.
We discover that Donna has four children, the youngest two living with her. We see her dealing with her son who she believes has been effecting by her taking drugs while pregnant. Then we meet the oldest two daughters and discover that one has succumbed to life on the streets while the other is determined to break the cycle of destruction.
We meet Donna's mother and discover about her past, how she was abused and sexually assaulted while young. Donna discovers that her mother abandoned her in order to protect her, which allows her to see her mother's actions in a different way. Her mother has also embarked on a journey of healing and we watch her graduate from university.
During the film Donna gets married, but we learn later that she and her husband have split. Donna becomes depressed and confesses that she's contemplated suicide. Throughout the film Donna is quite candid with the filmmakers and we come to see a slice of life in a very poignant way.
The message of the film is that recovery is a process, that happiness is not automatic when you stop prostituting yourself or when you quit taking drugs, that at any time you might relapse. We see that to change takes bravery and persistence and that it takes time. Donna's example would be beneficial for young aboriginal women at risk to see. The video would be ideal for classes studying aboriginal women, abuse, and recovery.
Nous sommes tous comme les fleurs by Charlotte Diamond
Hug Bug Records, 2001. CD-ROM. Gr. K-4. $15.00
Juno award winning singer and songwriter Charlotte Diamond has another hit on her hands with her latest CD Nous sommes tous comme les fleurs.
The 18 lively, happy and upbeat songs on this CD vary from some with Latin rhythms to those with a jazz feel and still others which are more like traditional folk songs. Words are provided and the vocabulary is easy to understand. The songs cover subjects familiar to all young children, including counting, various animals, weather and even bananas! Children from an elementary school in Richmond, B.C. join Diamond on the refrains and, to add to the general fun of the CD, there are animal sound effects - even a dinosaur! Particularly charming is the Hug Bug who likes to hide, but miraculously appears whenever someone is upset, worried or ill! Instrumentation with guitars, piano, accordion, percussion and other instruments is simple yet effective, and never overpowers the songs.
This CD could be used with any young children, whether Francophone or Anglophone in immersion or core French classes. Many songs are 'chansons a repondre' which invite the listener to sing along. In some cases, children could go on from the given song to make up their own additional verses. Although none are included in the booklet, I can easily imagine a class inventing actions or dances to complement the music, since it positively invites imaginative interaction.
Charlotte Diamond's great voice and sense of fun are clearly evident on this terrific CD. Share some of her sparkling joie de vivre with your own children or with the children in your classroom!